On Monday night, Forbes and his East Tennessee State basketball team can make a little history of their own. The Bucs are going for their 17th consecutive victory, something no ETSU team has ever done.
It’s not expected to be easy. Standing in their way is a determined UNC Greensboro team.
“It’s something the team can be proud of,” Forbes said. “It’s something for the guys to talk about when the season is over, something they can talk about 10 years from now. Our plan is to keep it going, break it and bury it where it will be really hard to ever break. That’s not the ultimate goal, but once you get on a run like this and you’re playing well, these things happen.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Greensboro Coliseum.
ETSU, which comes in 22-4 overall, has won 20 of its last 21 games and is 13-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s good for a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Greensboro.
The Bucs tied the 2003-04 team’s school record of 16 victories in a row by beating Virginia Miliatry Institute 70-56 on Saturday. Thanks to St . Mary’s loss to Gonzaga late Saturday, ETSU has the longest active winning streak in the country.
The Spartans (19-6 overall, 10-2) are 13-1 at home this year, with nine of those victories coming at 23,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum, where they average 2,258 fans per game. They also play a handful of home games at the on-campus Fleming Gymnasium, where they beat Western Carolina on Saturday.
“We’re trying to win a championship and we’re going to play a big game on Monday to determine who the champion is,” Forbes said. “The beautiful thing about it is we’re in control of our own destiny. We just have to beat the ones in front of us.”
The Spartans are led by SoCon player-of-the-year candidate Francis Alonso, who averages 16.4 points per game, second in the SoCon behind Wofford’s Fletcher Magee. The junior guard from Spain is one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference.
Marvin Smith averages 12.3 points per game and James Dickey is the SoCon’s leading rebounder at 8.5 per game.
“They’ve got length and they’re really good defensively,” Forbes said. “They have one of the premier players in our league with Francis Alonso. They defend and rebound. They’re a lot like our team and we look alike athletically, so it’s going to be a tough challenge to go in and win.”
Francis was held to five points against Western Carolina. He made 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
EYE ON THE BUCS
The Bucs counter with a deep lineup that is led by their own player-of-the-year candidate Desonta Bradford, who is averaging 15.2 points per game. Jalan McCloud, who had a team-high 20 points against VMI, averages 12.4.
No other player is in double figures, although seven players average seven or more.
Last year, the Bucs had a chance to clinch the SoCon’s regular-season title on the final day of the season. Instead, they lost at Greensboro, causing a three-way tie — with Furman and UNCG — for the championship.
ETSU fell to third in the seedings for the conference tournament, which didn’t hurt as it turned out. The Bucs wound up beating UNCG in the tourney final.
The Spartans also have plenty to play for. They’re going for their second consecutive 20-victory season.
GOING FOR THE SWEEP
ETSU topped the Spartans 68-58 at Freedom Hall earlier this season. The game was much closer than the final margin for much of the afternoon.
Jermaine Long led a defensive effort that limited Alonso to 10 points on a 4-for-11 shooting effort.
Since then, UNCG has won eight of nine games, with the only setback being an 87-85 double-overtime loss at Chattanooga.